Words by: Corey Lof
Photos by: Dylan Hamm
We were ten days, two flats tires, forty cans of beans and a collective maybe fifteen hours of sleep into our road trip from Toronto to Columbia when we parked our beat up 70's truck camper at the corner of princess Ave and -----, West Van. We would've stressed about the sidewalk tree that reached out and ripped the aluminum siding off the top right corner of our cursed new home but there was no time, the good homie Dylan was waiting on the porch with a six growler greeting for us, his childhood friends, two years estranged. It took a half growler to adjust to Dylan's transfer from dirt bag to Vancouver hipster but three more swigs and he had to pull our hands from his Barbour trimmed beard. "I have a couple of things I'd like us to do while you're here." He said. "Top of the list: Soo River Music Festival."
It's was an excuse to over dose on party favours in the woods—the independently thrown, pay what you can, local artist type shindig—held just above whistler, 14 km into the forest, on a little raised land mass in the middle of the Soo River. The only question was how we would get there. After our second flat crossing the country we'd adopted the maxim, NO MORE FUCKING LOGGING ROADS, yet somehow when we rolled up to the mouth of Ol' Soo with that classic west coast rain falling all around us, it had changed.
"Fuck it, we'll drive slow." I said.
The only directions we had were in a text message on Dylan's dead phone but we were fine, he remembered them perfectly, "I think it said, stay left by the big rock pile where it forks. I think." I was confident. Dylan had never led me astray before, at least never so far I couldn't find my way back. Behind the wheel, eyes on the road, looking out for pot holes and rocks, I crept on; faded km markers popping up every 6 minutes or so. "Thirteen." Dylan said, pointing at the marker, "We should see it on our left." But there was nothing. We drove another kilometre but the logging road we were on started to fade into the forest then went up a hill and disappeared. We all got out of the truck at the top of the hill. To our left was more hill and thicker forest; to our right, about a kilometre down, was a river and on the other side of it was a line of cars and a grouping of tents. "Maybe we were supposed to stay right." A three hour detour. Big deal.
I relinquished my driving duties, got in the back and got on the gin. Dylan got behind the wheel. Not having been with us for the first two flat tires his caution levels were low and he was driving fast. I'd barely poured a drink before I heard that familiar hiss.
It was the first and least consequential of the two flats we'd get on our Soo River adventure. But still, at the time we didn't know that.
We had no cell service, no spare tire and no idea when the next car would come by. We pointed fingers at each other for half an hour then started packing our bags. Booz, drugs, food, sleeping gear—"Should we pack clothes?"—"How long are we going to be away from the truck?"—"I say we we go to the party, enjoy our night then deal with this tomorrow."—"Of course you would say that but this is our fucking home. We can't just leave it here."—"There no sense in all of us going to get the tire fixed."—"True. Fuck you. Go to your party."—"It's Sunday. Nothing's open. There are people at this party, my friends, who will be able to help us."—Fuck him. He was right. We started hiking.
We only made it about 100 meters before a group of young camo-clad gun men came by. They met our Canadian expectations and handed over their spare on trust that we would return it—after the party. Two hours later the truck was parked on the right side of the river, we'd crossed over the homemade palate bridge and were all dancing under tarp, wide eyed, with our eclectic mix of new friends. There were enough chemicals being passed around to keep everyone's eyes and hands on each other and minds off the rain that had started before sunrise and showed no signs of stopping come sunset.
It wasn't until about 5am that everyone's feet started getting wet and the panic set in. The Dj stopped his set and made an announcement something along the lines of, "The river is swallowing the island. We need to get everyone and everything to higher ground." Half the people had already retired to their tents and were dreaming sweet drug fuelled dreams, oblivious to the situation; half of the remaining people scrambled to the palate bridge to get back to their cars, realizing that the bridge too had been swallowed. So there was roughly twenty of us left to haul all the equipment—ten massive amps, drums, guitars, computers, tables, cords, so many fucking cords—to higher land. Because the only bridge out had been washed away we hoped for the best with the highest ground we could find, haphazardly throwing everything into a pile under a tarp or into people's tents. The last of the cords were dragged out just minutes before the stage was washed away. Washed might be too soft a word here. What was a nice, calm river when we showed up, dancing its pearly rain on river dance, was now rushing past us like class 4 rapids tearing down the stage, all the canopies, full grown trees and the most heart breaking yet appropriate thing to be washed away: the poignant little "Secret Tent" in which everybody had written down and pinned up their deepest secrets.
The nights only reprieve came while we were waiting for the sun to rise under a tarp when one the event's organizers pulled out a large tin full of shredded pork. "I saved the pig." He said. It had been cooking under a fire on the beach. When everyone started hauling in equipment, he started digging.
The moment the sun was up a group of four of us machete'd our way through the forest in the still pouring rain looking for a way out but found nothing. The next few hours were spent waking everybody up and walking them to where the palate bridge used to be. "This is the best way out but I am sorry, you're going to get wet." The sky was a grey wash; the rain wasn't going to stop. Even the higher ground was starting to flood. Those still sleeping at 8am woke up in flooded tents.
There was mixed feelings about wading through the river but with no other choice one after one people started jumping in—camping and music equipment overhead. Some people were crying, unable to handle the cold. Others were pissing themselves laughing, loving the adventure. But most just grit their teeth, hoping to god all the rented equipment wasn't being destroyed.
We were one of the first vehicles out. My buddy Steve got behind the wheel. He'd made it out earlier in the night, before the river was waist deep, so actually managed to get some sleep. I crawled into the camper to lay down for the first time in more than twenty four hours. I fell asleep as soon as the truck started rocking its way back to the main road. The worst is behind me, I thought.
I don't know how long I slept for or how fast Steve was driving but when I woke up the truck was stopped and Steve was outside shaking his head, his elastic face tied in a knot. "I'm really getting tired of this flat tire business." He said.
Lucky for us there were plenty of people still leaving the party and we still had another punctured tire in the trailer from earlier in our adventures. So Steve and Curt, who owned the truck but was also sleeping in the trailer, took the spare flat and hitched a ride back to whistler to repair it. "See you when I see you." I said. Without looking out the window to get a grasp on the situation I lay back down and fell asleep.
It had just stopped raining when they rolled up at 3pm, in a beautiful 91 Ford, Club Wagon. "My friend Jazz lent me this." Curt said, "We have to be careful with it."
"Obviously." I said.
"So we need to hurry because that puddles not getting any smaller."
Even though it had stopped raining the river which ran right beside the road was still rushing in and starting to flood our path.
"Shit." I said.
"We got through no problem coming this way. We should be fine."
The puddle covered about 50 meters of road.
The tire change was a bit of a process with all the weight of the trailer and Curt having bought the dinkiest of car jacks. It was a lift a few inches, stack wood under the axle, lower the jack, stack wood under the jack, lift a little bit more, stack a little more wood under the axle, kind of processes but we got it. It couldn't have taken more than 45 minutes.
"We ready to go?" I looked at the puddle. It had doubled in size.
"A jeep just went through like fifteen minutes ago."
I got behind the wheel in the truck, with Derek, the fourth member of our tri-continental travel pack sitting in the passenger seat. "I'm not sure about this." He said.
"On to the next adventure baby."
The puddle was so big at this point that it stretched around a corner. Curt went for it first with the van, full speed, immediately sending the muddy river water up above the windows. He went around the corner and out of site. Derek and I moved to the edge of our seats watching as the van's eight foot wake settled. We opened the windows too listen for signs of success.
"FUCK!" It was Curt. They didn't make it. Derek and I got out of the truck and ran into the puddle, which now looked more like an off spout of the river. The water was freezing. Curt, Dylan and Steve we're all out, waist deep, behind the van, pushing. When Steve saw us coming he jumped into the driver seat to steer. It took four of us fifteen minutes to push it out. The water was too foggy to see what we were stepping on, sometimes rocks, sometimes into pot holes. After five minutes my feet were too numb to know. "I wish I put on shoes." Dylan said. The vans a 21 seater. For every rock that ended up in front of the wheels it took a one two three haul to get over it—I'm surprised all four of us didn't end up with prolapsed rectums. We pushed until the water was below the hubcap.
We weren't sure if the engine was just a little water logged or completely shot or what so we decided to leave it for a bit before trying to start it. What we did know was that there was no way the truck was going to make it. We waded back through the still growing puddle, packed our bags, locked what we couldn't carry up and for the second time in two days walked away not knowing when or if we'd ever see our home again.
By the time we got back across the water had risen up to the bumper and stretched out another 100 meters in front of the van. We later learned that they call these flash floods. With our combined mechanic knowledge being zilch, we decided we'd let the engine dry out long enough and tried to start it. Steve got behind the wheel and put the key on the ignition. The sun was starting to go down. We needed to get out of there. He turned it over but all we heard was an empty click. As mechanically ignorant as we are that sound still instantaneously translates into negative dollar signs. "We're fucked."
We got back into the water and started pushing. The river was still rushing by, filling the road. The sun was pretty much gone. Whether we got the van to the main road or not wasn't the issue. We needed to get it somewhere where it couldn't be washed away. We pushed for another twenty five minutes up hill. The feeling in my feet still hadn't returned. It felt like I was walking on nubs.
When we were sure the van was safe Dylan hiked down the road to try and find service. He was able to relay that we were still in the forest and needed help before his battery died again. "Does it sound like they're going to help?"
"I don't know." He said.
Our mishap was put in perspective an hour later when a guy came by looking for his brother who'd been missing out here for going on twenty hours. Still, he was willing to tow us out to the main road and let us borrow his phone to call a tow truck.
In the end we had to buy the a
van off Jazz for 3500 bucks but we were able to fix if for another 600. Our friend Dani happened to be getting booted out of her apartment at the time so we decided to leave her the truck and camper to live in while she got back on her feet and we continued south in the van. We named the van Loretta and so far she's been good to us, getting us all they way down to Cabo San Lucas Baja. Tomorrow were catching the ferry from Las Paz to mainland Mexico. I'd like to think the worst of this adventure is behind us but something tells me we're just getting started.